James Kotecki (00:00): 

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This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki. The world's most powerful tech event, CES 2024, brings the future to Las Vegas, January 9th through 12th. Today, we preview the future of faucets and sinks, and showers and your experience in the bathroom of tomorrow. That's right. Your shower isn't just a place to get big ideas about the future. Your shower and sink can be the future, according to today's guest, Stephanie Knuth is Vice President Global Bathing, Showering, and Bathroom Faucets at Kohler. Stephanie, welcome to the show. 

Stephanie Knuth (01:20): 

Great, thanks for having me. 

James Kotecki (01:22): 

Okay, so we're talking the bathrooms of the future, and we have to be honest, I think some of us are probably living in the bathrooms of the past. People may be familiar with the latest faucet technology in some circumstances. Some people are using fixtures that are probably 20 plus years old. So I think to kind of give us a foundation for this conversation, can you just give us a quick survey about what the future and even present of faucet technology looks like? What are you seeing? What are you excited about? 

Stephanie Knuth (01:48): 

Yeah, I've been in the industry. I've been at Kohler for over 20 years, and it's really been interesting to see the evolution across all of our product categories, but particularly in the faucet space, just how the integration of technology and really smart intuitive ways can really enhance the user's experience and increase the functionality of the product. So going from a very static on-off lever handle to voice activation, touchless designs that integrates technology in a way that's not intrusive. It's very intuitive. I think that's been the fun evolution we've seen recently. And then, as we look to the future, it's taking cues from what we're seeing out in maybe industries outside of plumbing, kitchen, and bath and understanding where there's opportunity to continue to elevate experiences and functionality and deliver great functioning products in new, unique ways. So pretty exciting to see where things are going, for sure. 

James Kotecki (02:57): 

I think this idea of unobtrusiveness is interesting. If I think about those old vintage 1950s, the House of Tomorrow kind of newsreel kind of footage, people would look in the bathroom of tomorrow and it would be this robot beep boop kind of experience perhaps, or The Jetsons maybe, I don't know, they probably had a futuristic bathroom. The vision that you appear to be adhering to is more that the technology is, in some ways, subtle. In some ways, it's behind-the-scenes. It's obviously very powerful technology, but people, if they go into an updated futuristic bathroom, they see that it's, of course, modern and elegant design, but they're not necessarily looking at a lot of lights and gizmos and feeling like it's somehow it might not feel futuristic in that sense. Is that kind of what you're going for? 

Stephanie Knuth (03:40): 

Exactly. It's like, how do you integrate it more seamlessly? Well, you always want to put design first. We lead in design in our industry. We also want to be leaders in functionality technology. And so yeah, that fine line of being able to integrate technology not for the sake of tech, but to truly enhance functionality and bring and deliver new experiences to the kitchen and bath spaces, that's our overall goal, make it approachable. I think there is a balance of wanting to stretch the envelope and drive things forward, but we want to do it in a way that doesn't turn off consumers, doesn't make it scary. We want to make sure it's seen as a real benefit and not just a gimmicky technology for the sake of tech. 

James Kotecki (04:29): 

Can you dive into maybe just a couple of products, a sink, shower product, just to give us some specific examples of what these look like? You mentioned a couple of interesting features, but how do those kind of come together in specific products? 

Stephanie Knuth (04:41): 

Who would've thought the toilet sub yesterday are definitely molding and shaping? It is something really cool for the future, and so our Numi 2.0, it integrates automatic functions, so automatically opens and closes the lid, total touch-free design. It has self-cleaning wands, so ultimate hygiene solutions there. So really taking technology in the toileting space to the next level, but in a beautiful design envelope as well. So yeah, pretty interesting how we're able to integrate technology into common spaces that we use each and every day. 

James Kotecki (05:20): 

When you talk about setting personal profiles for something like a shower, presumably it sounds like you do that on an app, and correct me if I'm wrong, but once you have that set up, is it then integrated with something you mentioned earlier, voice technology, so I get in the shower and it knows it's me instead of my wife, and it's got my own personal temperature and steam preferences or whatever, kind of all loaded in? 

Stephanie Knuth (05:40): 

Absolutely. So we leveraged the Amazon, Apple, and Google platforms, and with a simple voice command, you can say, "Hey, Alexa, start Stephanie's morning shower," and it'll get the water temperature up to where I've had it set. It turns on the spray outlets that I want just for my unique experience, and it's as easy as giving a voice command similar in the kitchen space to be able to meter precise measurements of water. I can ask Alexa, tell my Kohler faucet to give me five ounces of water, and it'll precisely meter that. So it's pretty interesting what we can leverage technology to do within the kitchen and bath space. 

James Kotecki (06:21): 

I don't mean to put you on the spot on this one, but what's the bell curve of temperature that people can handle, right? Because some people like cold showers, but I assume that within the realm of warm showers, my warm shower is different than your room shower is different than other people. So do you find there's actually a pretty big temperature variance in terms of what a regular person can actually handle or wants to use in the shower? 

Stephanie Knuth (06:44): 

Absolutely. In fact, I was just having this discussion within my family. So we have smart showers at my house. My teenage son, he has his set at 109 degrees. That's way too hot for me. I'm more about 104, 105 degrees after a workout. I'm keeping it at mid-90s to try to cool me down. So it is, that's what's pretty unique. I don't think most people know what their temperature is because in more traditional mechanical shower valving, you're using a red in a blue indicator to dial your temperature versus precise temperature. So that's part of the fun when you create these integrated systems is you can really dial it to your exact temperature. And again, it'll vary depending on the day or depending on the use for the shower. If it's a cold winter night, you want to take a nice warm, hot shower, or, again, after a post-workout, you want to get a nice cold plunge to cool you down quickly. 


So yeah, the flexibility is interesting, but I would say, is there an average temperature? I wouldn't be able to tell you. It really is a very unique experience that everybody's looking for. 

James Kotecki (07:55): 

Well, I think there's literally a Seinfeld joke on this from decades ago, which is, you go over to someone else's house and you have no idea what the precise millimeter thing you have to do on the dial to get that temperature because if you do one millimeter up or down, it becomes intolerable. So we've all had that experience, so this would absolutely solve that. One of my questions goes into how quickly can this be rolled out? So if people start to adopt this, and it sounds like obviously they already are, how much work has to go on behind the scenes, or can you just kind of swap out your fixtures and it's a relatively simple plumbing job, like swapping out any other kind of fixture to make the bathroom smart? Is there additional work that has to go on? 

Stephanie Knuth (08:38): 

Currently, we really focused, especially going to a more smart digital system within the shower that'll be incorporated as part of a remodel. So it does require you to get behind the wall, and it's an exchange of a traditional mechanical valve with a digital valve. But we've spent a lot of time working with the trades with the plumbing installers and definitely have designed systems that make it easy to install. So we found that plumbers who have been trained and understand how the system work actually find that it saves time, it's more reliable, and delivers a better experience for their homeowners. So we are looking at the future of smart showering and how we bring it down to the masses in a way that's a really quick and easy exchange, and that's certainly something when we look at the pipeline of new products that we're developing. That's an area of focus for us at Kohler. 

James Kotecki (09:34): 

One of the few businesses at CES where the pipeline is literally involving pipelines. And so- 

Stephanie Knuth (09:38): 


James Kotecki (09:42): 

I would love to talk about the health components here as well. Obviously, people probably became... The sinks are obviously in the background for a lot of people's lives. The sync became a centerpiece of the pandemic, as we all needed to be washing our hands all the time. So can you speak to how futuristic and technology enhancements help with health enhancements in these situations? 

Stephanie Knuth (10:01): 

Yeah, I mean, a pretty easy way that we've leveraged technology over the last few years is integrating touchless technology to our bathroom faucet line and have extended that into the bathroom as well. So when you think about health and safety, and hygiene while you're cooking or preparing food, not having to touch the handle or the spray head of your faucet is a way to keep the space clean but also not transfer of any germs or bacteria. So that's a pretty straightforward way there. We talked about the toileting space, having integrated smart features within our smart toileting portfolio where there's hygiene wands that are there to really keep the user clean and safe, and there's drying features as well as the touch-free open and closing of the lid and automatic flushing. Another way to sort of keep everybody safe from surfaces that do collect bacteria and germs, and so that's how we're looking at it from a safety standpoint, is eliminating the transfer from hands. 

James Kotecki (11:09): 

And do you do anything involving on the monitoring side of the waste water from sinks or toilets involving checking for diseases? Is that something you do now or might do in the future? 

Stephanie Knuth (11:22): 

We're not doing that currently. That's absolutely thinking health and safety and particularly coming out of the pandemic. That was a major concern for everybody globally for a period of time. I definitely think that there's opportunities to expand as we look outside of our traditional industry and other products that we're seeing come out in the market. I think it's certainly something that we're always keeping in the foreground of our new product roadmap. 

James Kotecki (11:51): 

I can imagine conversations at CES about that because CES obviously is a collision of different industries and expertise, and one can imagine a conversation at CES 2024 that turns into a product that's on display at 2030, 2029, something like that. 

Stephanie Knuth (11:51): 


James Kotecki (12:04): 

The other health factor here zooming out is really the health of the planet, and people are concerned about the amount of water that they're using. We know we need to wash our hands for a certain amount of time. We need to take a shower for a certain amount of time. We also know that there's certain areas of the planet that are more water-stressed. So when you go to a digital situation, I assume there's things that can help with monitoring the amount of water that's actually coming out and being used. 

Stephanie Knuth (12:29): 

Yeah, absolutely. So within our smart showering category, we have the ability to measure the amount of water that's being consumed. So people who are more mindful of water conservation are able to see exactly how much water is being consumed within their normal showering experience. We also feature an eco mode on our digital system that only allows one outlet to be functioning at a time, so it limits the amount of overall water consumed. We've also just introduced really simple tech to the showering space in terms of having the ability to dial up or down the water use on a fixed outlet. So we have a shower head as well as a hand shower that you can dial down to a half a gallon per minute. So while you're lathering up in the shower or shampooing your hair, you can- 

James Kotecki (13:21): 

Oh, that's good. Okay. 

Stephanie Knuth (13:21): 

... use less water. And then you're able to dial it up to still an eco-friendly 1.5 gallons to be able to rinse and get the shampoo out of your hair. But that's really giving the user the ability to take control and manage the amount of water that they need for different tasks that they're doing within the showering space. 

James Kotecki (13:41): 

And the change in the flow amount, do I control that with a button, or do I just step out of the stream, and if I step out of the stream, it diminishes, or something like a motion sensor? 

Stephanie Knuth (13:51): 

So within our digital system, you have the ability, with the user interface, to dial the precise flow of each of the outlets. And then, again, we have just straightforward hand showers and shower heads that, with a touch of a little lever on the device, you can just dial it up and down. It's not motion-activated. We want to make sure that people have real control. I think we found that with all of our research is. People want to feel like they're in control of what's happening to them. And sometimes if the idea of false activations, things turning on or off when you don't want them to, doesn't create a great experience. So we're really intentional of how we build in and leverage technology in a way that still gives the control to the person using the product. 

James Kotecki (14:37): 

Speaking of focus on the consumer and on the person using it, do you lean into the term self-care? Do you like that term as a way to describe what you're doing for consumers, and our consumers resonating with that term? 

Stephanie Knuth (14:48): 

Absolutely. I mean, a major focus for a Kohler company is really to enhance overall wellness through the products and services that we bring to the market. And so the idea of self-care is absolutely something that we're leaning into and our consumers are resignating with across many of our categories. So within the bathing space, the ultimate self-care product that we've introduced is our stillness bath, and that's featuring bringing experiences of light, sound, aroma altogether in a really amazing, beautifully, ergonomically shaped bathtub with flowing water, so an infinity waterscape over the edges of the bath. So the ability to really create a sanctuary, and I think our consumers are looking to create sort of their own spa experience within their bathroom. It's the one place in the day that you typically have the most privacy, and it's the place that you're doing all sorts of tasks, and one of them is taking care of yourself. 


And so being able to really dial that up in some of the areas of the bathroom is a focus for ours. The shower is an obvious one with bringing water in really cool ways to the space, but the incorporation of aromatherapy with our new Sprig Wellness brand that we launched earlier this year is another way to bring aromatherapy to the shower stream. So it's a device that infuses aromatherapy into the shower. So while you're taking a great, amazing shower, you're also getting infused with aromatherapy. So we're always thinking about the different ways that we can deliver experiences that evoke all the senses, and that's definitely what we've leaned into when we talk about self-care for the kitchen and bath space. 

James Kotecki (16:37): 

I want to go out on a limb here and ask about something. I think I've seen in a cartoon once, maybe it was a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, the idea being that could you ever do something like the shower turns on, gets the person wet, and then another hose or nozzle opens up from the same portal, and that's your soap. It's almost like spraying you down with soap. I guess this would be a shower for people who just want maximum efficiency, and then it sprays you down again. It's like a human carwash. I suppose. I am potentially being ridiculous and silly with this question, but I am just curious, since I have you here, has that ever been considered? Is that even a thing? 

Stephanie Knuth (17:11): 

There are no silly ideas when it comes to showering and toileting. We've heard them all definitely have heard the term, the human carwash as a way to evolve the showering space. I'm taking notes as you're talking. I'm going to pitch that to the team next. But yeah, we're certainly- 

James Kotecki (17:29): 

Wow, my big idea finally coming to fruition. 

Stephanie Knuth (17:32): 

No, we absolutely are thinking of ways to, again, bring enhanced experiences to the space from an efficiency standpoint, just an overall experiential standpoint. But yeah, I think the opportunities are endless when we talk about the kitchen and bath space. 

James Kotecki (17:50): 

And as you're talking about creating these luxury spa-like, technology-enhanced experiences, even as I was asking the question, it's like people want that. They don't want some super quick carwash thing, presumably, although maybe in certain circumstances, maybe in military barracks, they would like that, maybe on certain ships or, I don't know, maybe in situations where you couldn't otherwise take a shower, but now you could, who knows? We'll have to have you back on the show and see if any of these ideas that I just randomly pitched actually come out. When you're thinking about accessibility, I want to just give an opportunity to dive into that topic a bit more. We talked about touchless, we talked about voice activation, and there's a lens here on this, which is probably getting more people to be able just to access and use this stuff no matter what capabilities they personally have. 

Stephanie Knuth (18:37): 

Yeah, absolutely. I think when we lead and design, we're always thinking through the lens of inclusivity, and so that's how do you make your products that are very accessible to the variety of people that are using these products within the home from day to day. So that's definitely a lens that we look through when we talk about design to the point on voice activation, touchless. I think those are technologies that absolutely aligned with our ability to bring more accessibility to the products beyond that, leveraging our Kohler Konnect app. And so you have the ability to start your shower remotely and be able to prepare to get into the space, be able if you need assistance, having the ability for others to manage presets and functionality outside of the user themselves. So certainly a lens that we think is really important for us to continue to deliver great products through, whether it be technology-driven products or just in our main product line. 

James Kotecki (19:42): 

And is there an energy-efficient line on this as well? I mean, we talked about water efficiency and the health of the planet that way, but it occurs to me that if you're being very precise about the amount of water we're using and the temperature that you're using, there's potential energy efficiency gains to be had here too. 

Stephanie Knuth (19:56): 

When you look at being able to reduce the amount of water that you use, that's, in many cases, reducing the amount of energy that's required to treat that water. When you are able to keep the temperature low but deliver a great experience, again, you're being more efficient overall. So we look at sustainability not just through the lens of using less water, it's from end to end. So looking at the whole circularity of the product, from how the product's made and how it gets to the consumer, how it's unboxed and installed, and then, through end of life, how it is replaced, it's certainly foundational to our overall enterprise sustainability mission. 

James Kotecki (20:42): 

So I know that Kohler is going to be at CES 2024. Are we going to see some of the things that we've been talking about today in person at your space? 

Stephanie Knuth (20:49): 

The Numi 2.0, so I kind of touched on that a little bit earlier, and bringing beautiful, smart toileting design with so many new features and benefits, including the integrating cleansing wands, the lighted toilet, heated seat, automatic open-close, automatic flush, and deodorizing. So really taking it to the next level there. So yeah, excited to see that. And as I mentioned, our Sprig Wellness brand is another great new product you'll be able to see in the booth as well. I think we showcased it as a preview last year. It's on the market now, and we're continuing to build out the portfolio within that wellness brand. So yeah, lots of great stuff to see. 

James Kotecki (21:35): 

And are there any trends or topics at CES beyond your immediate industry space that you are excited about for CES '24, whether or not they immediately relate to bathrooms or not? I'm just curious, are there anything that you're really excited to see? 

Stephanie Knuth (21:51): 

I'm always excited to see what's happening within our industry, but yeah, I think when you look at the team that we send to go to the show, we're always excited to see what's happening outside the industry and particularly of how we can be integrating that. So we look at the whole home automation and how do our products seamlessly connect into the systems that people are already using to control a lot of other devices in the home. That's always important for us to stay on top of the technology and see where there's a point of intersection or integration that we can leverage. I think part of the fun of CES is the stuff that you would never have thought of seeing that comes to life, and it's always amazing the cool ideas that are always coming to the foreground. And so yeah, not sure what to expect this year. I think I'm always surprised every time I go. 

James Kotecki (22:45): 

Well, we can't wait to see you there and to see what Kohler has to offer. Stephanie Knuth of Kohler, thanks so much for joining us today on the show. 

Stephanie Knuth (22:53): 

Great. Thanks for having me. 

James Kotecki (22:54): 

And that's our show for now, but there's always more tech to talk about. So, if you're joining us on YouTube, be sure to hit that subscribe button. Leave a comment. If you're listening on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeartMedia, or wherever you get your podcasts, be sure to hit that follow button. You can get even more CES and prepare for Vegas at ces.tech. That is C-E-S dot T-E-C-H. Our show is produced by Nicole Vidovich and Mason Manuel, recorded by Andrew Lin, and edited by Third Spoon. I'm James Kotecki, talking tech on CES Tech Talk.